With America’s prison population getting grayer by the year, the question arises: Should the U.S. continue to incarcerate inmates in their sixties, seventies and older?
Over the past two decades, the percentage of older prisoners has increased substantially. From the mid-1990s to 2010, the portion of state and federal prisoners age 55 or older jumped 282%, while the number of all prisoners grew by only 42%, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
HRW estimates there are now 124,400 prisoners age 55 or older.
These convicted felons have proven themselves to be less of a threat than their younger counterparts when it comes to committing more crimes after being released. In Ohio, only 5.6% of inmates age 65-69 who were released broke the law again within three years. The rate was even smaller for those 70-74 (2.9%). For released prisoners in general, the rate was 26.7%
In New York, only eight convicts 65 and older out of 1,511 released between 1995 and 2008 wound up going back to jail for committing a violent felony.
In many cases, elderly prisoners are infirm or even unable to care for themselves. In such cases, HRW recommends that “conditional release to home confinement under parole officer supervision could be substituted for continued incarceration.”
To Learn More:
Golden Girls Behind Bars: Aging Prisoners Yearn for Freedom (by Viji Sundaram, New America Media)